The Concentration Game: Lourdes World Cup Finals 2016
One man’s pain....
On a day that will go down in history for one reason or another, one man’s pain became others’ gain.
Words: James McKnight Photos: Seb Schieck and the odd one or two by Ben Winder!
Loic Bruni was on a rampage all week in Lourdes – tearing the track to pieces and riding with more confidence and determination than he has perhaps ever displayed. Unfortunately neither that nor his 2.3 second advantage at the final split meant that the race was his.
What an up and down category Juniors is. Packed with brilliant talents still finding their feet and getting into a World Cup rhythm, the results can vary wildly from race to race, run to run.
To be fair to the future stars, they had the most savage race conditions of everyone, as the sun still hadn’t risen high enough to dry the very damp and greasy lower woods for their race runs, things were wildly hit-or-miss. One wrong move and you’re off.
The only constant in the Junior top three was that of the UK’s Matt Walker – the Madison/Saracen rider was looking flat out all week and retained his second place from seeding to step onto his first World Cup podium. Nikolas Nestoroff was on the pace just a couple of seconds back in third, with Gaetan Vige and Jackson Frew closing the top five.
It’s good to see Specialized/SRAM’s first year Junior Finn Iles finally in the results after his 2015 as course opener (before he was old enough to race), and the team’s confidence in the Canadian has most certainly paid off. Iles was on it and seriously impressive to watch from run one in Lourdes and, after a bobble in qualifying, he kept it upright to take a well-earned win on race day.
The final word should go to France’s Kevin Marry though. First in qualifying, first at every split until he crashed hard and dislocated his shoulder. An unfortunate ending to a race that brought Marry to the world’s attention. He will be back and we wish him the best for his recovery.
After qualifying in first place with a crash, Tahnee Seagrave must have been on a confidence high. The Transition rider is unbelievably talented and, as with Bruni, it is only a matter of time before she starts to win these things.
Seagrave’s first big win at Lourdes 2016 wasn’t to be though, as Trek’s latest figurehead Rachel Atherton put in a trademark perfect run to demolish the competition by four seconds. Tahnée settled for second place – still her best result ever, so she will have a lot to take away from this race.
Manon Carpenter settled for third place to make it a British 1-2-3 with Tracey Hannah coming back from mechanical woes in her qualifier (broken chain before the start line..) to take fourth and Emelie Siegenthaler rounding out the top five.
The men’s race heard the biggest cheers and loudest silence I have ever witnessed at a mountain bike race.
I think it is fair to say that Loic Bruni’s crash in the final section of track – an easy section relative to everything he had just ridden oh-so flawlessly – was crushing for every single person in the arena. Even Aaron Gwin, who profited to become the first World Cup winner for a direct-sales-only bike company, was heard saying it should have been Bruni’s. But, as he well knows himself, racing is racing and if you let down your guard your day can be done in a flash.
Perhaps the most upbeat person in the paddocks after finals was Bruni himself – obviously gutted but smiling and happy for his fellow Frenchman and equally egoless youngster Amaury Pierron, who made it onto his first World Cup podium in fifth with a superb display of bike riding. One of the new generation among what was otherwise a well-seasoned top five.
Troy Brosnan got his season off to a flying start in what are realistically polar-opposite conditions to his off-season training at home in South Australia. Fourth place and he will be looking to gain momentum as we move back across the globe to Australia for round two.
Two tenths then separated third and second placed riders Danny Hart and Steve Smith. Both fan favourites and both having perhaps struggled to get to this pace in 2015 (especially with Smith’s injury woes). With the Redcar Rocket and the Chainsaw Massacre riding at top five speed it should be one hell of a season ahead.
Everyone knows Gwin can dominate, he’s done it for two different manufacturers now. But the big question of whether a change in sponsor from long-established bicycle manufacturer to young upstart could translate directly to ‘Gwin pace’ was up in the air.
It took a while for him to get revving for his last sponsor after all. His first international on-board a YT and things became so very clear. Bruni’s page in the history books was rewritten as ‘Direct Sales Win Races’.
While the World Champion seemed unphased by his crash – he left the paddocks with a knowing grin on his face – I have a feeling the bike industry might just take a little while longer in soothing its pains. There’s a new kid on the block.
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